Of the three CHL leagues, it was the Western Hockey League that came out ahead in the 2022 NHL draft, with six players selected in the first round. The mini 24-game bubble season in 2020-21 was followed-up by an in-conference only schedule last season. The WHL’s dedication to play at least some hockey during the pandemic shortened year proved to be hugely beneficial as many teams took the opportunity to go young, thus benefitting the 2022 NHL draft class immensely.
Although last season didn’t feature typical WHL travel, it did still serve the league’s youth well.
Through both seasons, one thing became clearly evident: Regina’s Connor Bedard is the real deal. He put up almost two points per game in the bubble before starring for Canada at the 2021 U18 worlds. He returned to Regina last year, with a 51-goal, 100-point season. Finishing the incomplete world juniors from December, Bedard showed a different element to his game as he played a productive role at the start, but transitioned to a more complete role as the tournament progressed.
The WHL draft eligible list is more than just Bedard, however. There’s a number of high-end prospects who project as first rounders. While they’re not expected to go in round one of the draft, the WHL provided all three goalies for Canada’s gold-medal entrant into the Hlinka-Gretzky U18 world tournament. Carson Bjarnason sits at the bottom of this list, but both Scott Ratzlaff (Seattle) and Jackson Unger (Moose Jaw) should get plenty of looks.
We’ll get our first look at several of those players as the league opens up Friday, with 16 teams in action. This list provides you with a good reference point for what should be another banner year in the Dub.
1. Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats Sit back and enjoy the ride, he’s special.
2. Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors His shoot-first mentality is the right approach for a player that has an NHL release with great accuracy.
3. Zachary Benson, C, Winnipeg Ice Super slick, super smart and super skilled. Should light it up in Winnipeg again this season.
4. Riley Heidt, C, Prince George Cougars Possesses pro habits in play and in leadership.
5. Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings One of the oldest players available for the 2023 draft, with a September birthday. Benefitted from playing in the WHL bubble at 15 years old, resulting in a point-per-game sophomore season in 2021-22.
6.Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon Blades Mobile defenceman who has an eye for creating offence. Plays with more bite than your typical offensive-minded d-man.
7.Kalan Lind, C, Red Deer Rebels Despite his slim stature, everyone knows when he’s out there. He plays smash-mouth hockey and let’s you know it.
8. Tanner Howe, C, Regina Pats As a late birthday, he put up over a point per game with the Pats in the 2021-22 season. Will get plenty of looks playing with Bedard.
9. Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna Rockets Creative player who works well in tight spaces. Has the patience to open up his best option.
10. Carson Bjarnason, G, Brandon Wheat Kings) The size (six-foot-three) plays, so to does his methodical way in playing the position. Moves quickly and efficiently.